The room we chose to use as our living room is dark. Outside the stately front window, four large holly trees stand sentry, dominating the front garden and blocking natural light to the front of the house. Each is in possession of a preservation order, a council-given right to remain despite lacking any redeeming features, guarding the front door with evergreen austerity like a gang of moody bouncers.

Leaf it out. Holly trees hulk in front garden

Leaf it out. Holly trees hulk in front garden

When we were thinking about wall colours and window covering we kept coming up against this, and bemoaning the lack of light. Then, in discussion with a curtain fitter one day I discovered that the room, with its wood panelling and shadowy aspect, would almost certainly have been the library, decorated in rich dark colours, and containing shelves full of carefully bound volumes. Dim light was a boon in this setting. Well this did change it for me, and we started thinking about turning the room’s challenges into an inspiration.

These guys don't mind it gloomy: In the Library by John Watkins Chapman

These guys don’t mind it gloomy: In the Library by John Watkins Chapman

Having painted the wood- and plasterwork a refreshing white, we decided to go for a densely dark grey on the fireplace wall. The remaining walls are a lighter shade on the spectrum. The contrast between walls and woodwork is dramatic.

Serene and grown up

Serene and grown up

We removed the small fireplace, which we thought may not have been the original for that space: gaps in the skirting suggested that there had once been a grander version there. We did like it, though, and had it cosmetically reconditioned (not to be used, it’s patched up mainly with plywood) and placed in Jonas’s room. We spent a good while choosing a more suitable statement fireplace for the room, along with a marble surround in place of the existing rather timid wooden construction. The significant costs of the products (fire, grate, slate, mantel, backing boards), were small beans compared to the enormous cost of installation. An open fire is a luxury: once you step along that road to renovation you are bound to be shelling out at high levels. Because of fire safety, you don’t feel as though you can argue with the professionals, after all, who would want to jeopardise their home and family with a “shoddy” job? Suffice to say, if anyone was looking for any area to retrain into, I’d suggest the fire installation trade as a dead cert from the money-spinning perspective.

Incendiary costs: a new fireplace

Incendiary costs: a new fireplace

Other rooms in our house are quite vibrant and full of light. This room has turned out to be a calm, peaceful retreat in a sometimes hectic home, and a wonderful evening hideaway. It does feel more grown-up, and, whilst the children do come in here to watch TV now and then, it’s not part of the daily circuit for them (or their cars).

I think I may be off the beaten track a little here

I think I may be off the beaten track a little here

Next time I’ll tell you about the windows — we now had two bays to dress, one large and stately, one weeny and cute — and a far deeper journey into the suffocating folds of upholstery than I ever thought I’d embark upon….